Jack Jackson loves to take photographs. But, as these things happen, Jack didn’t realize he liked to take photographs until he was displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
“I was driving all around the country taking pictures of places,” Jack told us. “I was using these shitty little disposable cameras.”
He told us he snapped photos at the Grand Canyon, in Chicago, “all over, man.” He came back to New Orleans after seeing the country and bought a camera.
“I walked into Circuit City,” he said. “They were going out of business. I wanted a camera and bought this Nikon for $500.”
Jack told us this genesis tale at the Art Market on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. We, my colleague Ricardo and I, stumbled across Jack’s booth there one night. He was selling photos he took of the city — a church statue, a streetcar, a sunset, a street at night after a storm — and we were curious of their stories. One photo, of a silouette in front of a raging fire, was his first photo with his Nikon.
“I’d sit in my car flipping the pages of the instruction book,” he recalled. “Shutter speed; F-stop; lighting. I didn’t know this shit.”
Jack’s day job is a tour guide. At night, he shoots the city and has only recently — in the last two months — began selling his photos at the market. Jack also loves New Orleans.
I was in New Orleans for Digiday’s Programmatic Summit. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like talking about the automated buying and selling of online ads. Sexy, I know. But when the panel discussions were over and the networking moved from the formal setting of the Ritz-Carlton to the informal backdrop of the Crescent City, I got to explore a slice of the city beyond the tourist trap of Bourbon Street.
Bourbon Street is essentially Times Square for adults. Neon signs persuade you to look up. This may be why guys with earpieces stand in the street, like the master of ceremonies at a three-ring circus, imploring you to take a “titty detour” into one of the numerous strip clubs that run up and down Bourbon. People of all ages (well, adults of all ages) stumble in the street with a hurricane in one hand and a hand grenade in the other. There’s something fatalistic about the city’s two big drink sellers being named after a natural and man-made disaster.
But there’s an energy down Bourbon Street. Part of it, I think, comes from us tourists expecting some kind of voodoo magic to emanate from the city. You also half expect to see girls flash their breasts as they make their way from bar to bar. I’ve been to New Orleans a couple of times and have yet to see this. I’m sure it happens; I’ve seen the beads on the ground, the result of an aerial attack launched from balconies overlooking the street. Then there’s the music, grabbing you by the collar and lifting your soul. It’s hard to ignore the temptation. You go from bar to bar, following the notes. There’s rock and jazz and funk. Guitars and organs and horns. My God, the horns. Bourbon Street is the first stop towards musical bliss in New Orleans.
Walk northeast to Frenchman Street for the best music in New Orleans. Bourbon Street is like a light that attracts the tourists, whereas the freaks, the hipsters, the artists go to Frenchman Street.
Ricardo and I didn’t have a plan other than to walk from the Ritz-Carlton in the French Quarter to Frenchman Street. We moseyed down Bourbon. Or maybe we sauntered. Either way, we took our time. We stopped at what essentially was a take-out bar. It was a section attached to a bar that let thirsty consumers pick up a drink and take it on the go. Unlike other cities, public drinking is acceptable, if not encouraged, on Bourbon. Ricardo got a drink in a mug shaped like a skull. It lit up.
We continued our journey in The City That Care Forgot and marched along towards our destination. The walk from Bourbon Street to Frenchman Street is about 20 minutes. There’s clearly a line of demarcation between the two neighborhoods. The noise and lights of Bourbon fade and you get an eerie silence for a few blocks. Then the sound of Frenchmen Street wafts towards you. We got to Frenchman Street and my ears perked up. Not sure which place to duck into to hear music, we figured if we walked farther up the street, we’ll find something. If not, we’ll head back and stop in at a random place. We never stopped in to a bar.
First, we got caught filming a movie. We were minding our own business — though we both saw the Klieg lights — when someone asked us to stop walking. Ok. She quickly followed, “We’re filming Adam DeVine’s House Party 2.”
Ricardo parried, “I didn’t know there was a Adam DeVine’s House Party 1.”
Turns out, “House Party” is a Comedy Central series that highlights “24 of Adam DeVine’s favorite up-and-coming comedians,” according to CC’s website. They were filming the second season. Oh, and Adam DeVine is one of the guys in “Workaholics” and is the male nanny on “Modern Family.”
We were finally allowed to cross the DeVine Rubicon. We continued up the street, listening to the sounds emanating from the bars. We ended up at the corner of a block where a brass band was finishing its set. There must have been about 50 people or so crowded around the band, overflowing into the street and causing traffic. No matter, it’s New Orleans. Being the tourist, I grabbed a video of the band. Being the idiot, I didn’t have the sound on on my phone. So I have images, but no sound, which defeats the purpose of hearing back what they sounded like. They were great.
After shuffling down the block to listen to a bunch of folks– drums, guitar, upright bass and clarinet — at the corner of a park for a while, we began the trek back to the hotel. Then we came upon the Art Market where we found artists who made things like coasters made of repurposed wood that was strewn about the city. On our way out, after stopping by a couple booths, we came across Jack.
I enjoyed listening to Jack tell his story about how he fell in love with taking photographs. Hearing complete strangers talk about how they found their passion — and then work to make that passion their livelihood — makes life all the sweeter. Or as the Bobby Charles wrote (and The Band sang), “Life’s a pleasure, love’s a dream, Down south in New Orleans.”